Dealing with frustration after the magic ends

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of what I hope will be many opinion pieces by Phil Stone, dodgerscribe.com’s resident statistical guru, whose beautiful mug you see here. Phil comes at it from a Dodgers fan’s point of view. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

The end of a baseball season often brings about a certain level of depression. When something is a part of your life every day for six months, then goes away in kind of an abrupt manner, it can be rough for a little while. Throw in the disappointment of coming so close to the ultimate goal, 25 years in the making, and the emotions don’t generally subside any sooner. Losing to St. Louis, however, was not heartbreaking for me personally. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a Dodger fan as you’ll find. I just couldn’t really identify any type of desperate heartache or pain out of the loss. What I was feeling, however, was a bit of frustration, probably for a week during the NLCS and a day after, and here’s why:

The Dodgers lost Games 1 and 2 by two runs combined at Busch. They were in these games and could have won one or both with a healthy Hanley Ramirez. Now I realize that bad things happen in baseball and that teams have to have players step up when they do to overcome these obstacles. But like most Dodgers, fans I found it hard to excuse Joe Kelly for injuring the Dodgers’ most dynamic, talented and irreplaceable player. While I don’t believe he intentionally tried to hit him on a 1-2 pitch, his intention clearly was to drive him off the plate, a perfectly legitimate strategy so long as you know how to pitch inside and you don’t injure someone doing it. These are the playoffs, after all. I guess what I’m saying is Kelly “… wasn’t guilty, but he was responsible.” In my view, most of my frustration was due to my belief that Kelly literally changed the balance of competition by acting irresponsibly. All I could think about for a week as a fan, a non-violent one who generally doesn’t advocate the kind of thing we saw from a guy like Carlos Quentin this season, was WWDDD or What Would Don Drysdale Do? I think we all know the answer to that.

How did I deal with this frustration?

Well, first of all, if you would have told me on June 1 that the Dodgers were going to come within two wins of a World Series appearance after a historic run that would see them win a franchise-record 18 in a row on the road, play 40 games above .500 for a 66-game stretch and do it without the services of Matt Kemp for most of it, I would never have believed you. So some perspective is always a help in dealing with this kind of thing.

Looking to the future is a tool as old as the Dodgers themselves for consoling the frustrated (See: “Wait ‘Til Next Year”). I mean, the Dodgers are in good shape, right? A talented if not slightly older lineup with arguably the best one-two punch on the mound in all of baseball; a consistently good, young, third starter; a good young closer; and what should be a good-enough core of players to compete for a number of years. Right? Dodgers have all this money, a renewed involvement in international scouting, stadium improvements for both fans and players (don’t underestimate the impact outdated baseball facilities can have on a team’s ability to entice free agents) and some promising minor leaguers in their system. I’m already grabbing my shades, the future’s so bright! So frustrated fans can hang their hats on that right? Well, maybe, because usually, at least over 162 games, talent carries the day (or the months in this case).

This is what troubles me, though, and it shouldn’t be ignored by even the most blue-blooded, rose colored glasses-wearing Dodgers fan. If yesterday’s Don Mattingly-Ned Colletti press conference tells us anything, it tells us that the Dodgers still either haven’t addressed the institutional problems that have plagued them now since Peter O’Malley left in 1998 or are just starting to do so. “The Dodger Way” lost its way a while ago. You know, the mixture of talent, discipline, a situational understanding of the game, loyalty to teammates and the organization, these things have been elusive for a while now and may still be going unaddressed. As a fan and a stat geek, it’s hard to know. This was a fairly tight-knit team, don’t get me wrong, but there were frayed seams and a manager that may or may not have had the backing of upper management to deal with those stitches.

Now forgive me, Dodgers fans, but I’m about to wax poetic about the other sport I hold dear … hockey.

You see, this whole situation reminds me of when Colletti’s friend Dean Lombardi became GM of the L.A. Kings. He talked to fans and season-ticket holders regularly about building a team with talented players who have “the Kings logo tattooed to their butts.” He hired a coach who installed a system of play that would be played at both of their minor league affiliates with a core of drafted players who fit that system, with an emphasis on smarts and size. He wanted guys willing to play “Kings Hockey” for each other. He wanted a commitment from the players, and in turn, he’d make a commitment to them once they had established their value to their teammates and the organization.

Now I’m not naive enough to think hockey players and ballplayers are always motivated by the same things, or that this is a perfectly analogous situation, what with cultural differences and salary-cap restraints in the NHL. But Lombardi has built a perennial winner in this town, and the Dodgers need to build a new winning franchise much the same way. That’s right, four miles down the 110 Freeway, there’s a team playing at Staples Center that can be a blueprint for how the Dodgers need to do this, and it’s not the former championship basketball team one of its owners used to play for. They have a lot of the talent they need, but I’m not sure they have the TOTAL commitment of the whole organization — not if the comments from yesterday’s press conference are any indication.

If Mattingly leaves the team, it is incumbent upon the Dodgers to hire someone whose philosophies are echoed all the way down the chain. A man who can teach and use his veterans and coaches to reinforce the philosophies to young men from a variety of backgrounds. Colletti has to use the judgment necessary to either show patience or have the guts to make the tough decisions that need to be made based on the player’s perceived commitment to the organizational philosophy. But most of all, he needs an upper management team that trusts him because they’re on the exact same page, from Magic Johnson all the way down to the first base coach at Ogden.

The new ownership brings obvious promise, a track record of building (and playing for) winning or profitable organizations, but it’s hard to be completely upbeat until we know the Dodgers are moving together in the same direction with the same philosophy and with the right motivation, because that is how perennial winners are built.

That is the best way to ultimately deal with more than 25 years of frustration.

14 comments

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on the Dodger organization, Phil. You seem in agreement with what Ramona Shelburne says in this column: http://es.pn/1aaaH8q

    Astute observations. I agree as well.

    Also, I especially like the assessment of Kelly as ‘not guilty but responsible’. That whole thing was incredibly frustrating.

    • Thanks Carol, I prefer to say she agreed with me, but we can’t have everything can we? ;) Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Haha! Actually, that’s what I was trying to say….She agreed with you. Sometimes See, that’s why you’re the writer and I just post comments. :)

  2. Good read. I was among those who was waiting for some inside cheese to be thrown at Beltran. I guess the Dodgers felt they couldn’t afford to put ANYONE on base. If so, they were right.

    And another year of baseball goes by.

    “The Dodger Way to Play Baseball”. I devoured that book as a kid. I knew more about baseball from that book than any coaches I played for until college. But here’s the thing, as I see it anyway, the era of “Dodger Baseball” is long gone. Much has changed in MLB since that philosophy actually worked. There is no Dodger Way any more. The game has changed. Most players in MLB come up through multiple systems and bounce around the league, many hanging on just to make ungodly amounts of money. Loyalty to an organization is a thing of the past. And as for love of the game? Matt Kemp makes more in one day, over $54K every day of the year, guaranteed through 2019, than Duke Snider did in two years. I’d like to believe what you write about here could actually return, but, I think maybe too many years have gone by since I was a kid in the late 50′s and early 60′s listening to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett on my Admiral radio to believe such a thing could actually be reborn. We live in different times.

    Obviously I will continue to follow the Dodgers. But each year the lineup changes and I know the players that put on that uniform do so just to pick up a huge paycheck. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Dodgers or the Giants. Just pay me the money or I will move on. In fact, pay me the money and then I WILL move on.

    • Excellent comment. And I agree 100% with you. I think that is why I cherish listening to Vinny as he is the last piece of that era.

    • Jaded much? No, in all seriousness, that’s part of the point of my piece. Honest athletes with talent that care do exist and they can be taught at a younger age to focus on certain aspects of the game as they improve in the minor leagues or college. The teams getting ready to play in Boston tomorrow know all about this. I can tell you that the most important aspect of scouting potential 18 year-old draftees to a GM like Dean Lombardi (and this applies to all GMs in all sports) is the opportunity to interview these kids. Find out their background, are they coachable and do they have the intangibles like Hockey IQ (or baseball IQ if it’s Ned doing the interview) and what their approach to the game is. This is more critical to him than if they’re the best skater or the most skilled. That’s part of why the NFL uses the wonderlic exam. Same applies to baseball. Are you an aggressive base running team or do you play Earl Weaver-ball? Do you like to hit early in counts or do you like to grind out ABs. Are you willing to conform all of your major and minor league parks to be more condusive to your style of baseball. This is an organizational approach and it’s not only possible, it’s necessary to have long term success. Thanks for reading and commenting!!

  3. Bobby Valentine?

  4. Sorry Phil, I am not buying much of that. I played and coached the way I was taught, and the way baseball in that book was instructed. I don’t see it being done in today’s game. In our day (I sound like the old guys on the Muppets) everybody in the lineup could bunt. and everybody could go the other way with hit and runs. Guys choked up with two strikes and put the ball in play. Protect the plate? Players laugh at that now. Even the weak hitters hold the bat on the knob. On defense, first rule, every base is covered and every base is backed up – ON EVERY PLAY! I watch for that, and it just isn’t there. There are 9 guys out there and every one of them has a job to do on every pitch. Anticipate an overthrow? pfff. Most guys I see just stand there watching. How about hitting your cut-off? And many of today’s outfield arm couldn’t play on my softball teams. These guys throw three bouncers 10′ off target. They are there because they can hit a 95 mph fastball. Campanis would laugh at how today’s game is played.

    No, today’s game is about hitting the ball into the parking lot. Defensive strategies just aren’t played out they usta were.

    Maybe the Dodgers can get it back. But, frankly it’s hard for an old school guy like me to see it happening. Most of the players in the old days were average built guys with great hand eye. Even Mickey Mantle, the best hitter I ever saw, was under 5’11″ and 195 pounds. Second basemen are bigger than that now. Today’s baseball player looks more like yesterday’s football player.

    Yeah, I’m jaded. You live long enough, you’ll get there.

    • 100% correct again. Kudos to you. Imagine how strong a team we could have doing those simple things vs 29 other teams that don’t know how to play that way. Yeah I guess I’m jaded too. I love and miss skilled, thinking baseball.

  5. As Ken “the hawk” Harrelson says when a home run is hit, the Dodgers will soon say it about DM. “HE GONE!” It is clear when Mattingly laid down the gauntlet about wanting a multi-year contract and that he wanted his coaching staff to return in tact and Colletti fires Hillman that the next shoe to drop will be the firing of DM. Who’s next. This is LA and it needs a big name manager with a proven and accomplished track record. Enough of the Grady Little, Glenn Hoffman’s of the world.

    • Actually Hawk Harrelson says “And You Can Put It On The Board…..YES!” when describing a home run. “He Gone!” is when a White Sox ptcher strikes a guy out. Just for clarification. :)

  6. Could use an edit capability in here…. or maybe I should proof read a little?

  7. Nothing yet on Hillman getting canned? I knew it was coming and it was a very good move. If Donnie is not that great of an in-game manager then he needs someone on his staff that can help him out. I believe Donnie is very good at managing people/egos and that is why they should retain him. Having a great in-game manager that is bad in the clubhouse is much worse, just ask Boston last year.

  8. Great post Phil. Looking forward to more by you.